Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

State of affairs 2012


Once it became known that Boris Tissot together with Gabriele Felder had gone ahead to organize an international Kids' Guernica exhibition at Gernika museum from July until October 2012, and this without notifying anyone, different reactions set in. While some wished the exhibition well and gave recognition that a collaboration with the museum would be of great importance to Kids' Guernica, Hatto Fischer initiated a questioning of such a conduct. For it amounts to an exclusive practice of all others working for Kids' Guernica. Moreover how can two persons claim to be representing Kids' Guernica in the negotiation with the museum when they have been out of touch with the latest developments, Gabriele Felder much longer than Boris Tissot? Odd is as well that the murals shown in the exhibition are all taken from a stock Gabriele Felder has kept ever since he last organized a Kids' Guernica exhibition back in 2001. That amounts more to an exhibition out of convenience then trying to do any justice to the development Kids' Guernica has gone through since 2001. This includes as well the need to face and to resolve the question of copy-right with no member of Kids' Guernica really authorized to deal with the murals as they like. For they belong primarily to the children who created them.

Although Gabriele Felder and Boris Tissot are listed as members of the International Committee of Kids' Guernica, and which is posted on the international website, why they kept not only the other members on this committee in the dark is more than a puzzle. There exists as well an active Kids' Guernica network comprised of coordinators of different actions. So why no one was notified beforehand demands an explanation. Even more serious is that they practically misled the museum of Gernika. When the director of the Gernika museum was finally asked why she had not notified the international coordinator, she answered in disbelief that she had no idea Kids' Guernica would have such huge internal communication problems. It meant she had assumed all along Boris Tissot and Gabriele Felder would keep the others informed.

Experience shows that when exclusive, or even egoistical practices like these are not challenged in time, things will get out of control and the entire movement shall head in a wrong direction. Naturally a highly decentralized movement like Kids' Guernica can do very little when something like this happens and a major exhibition a 'fait accompli' before anyone could respond. Kids' Guernica learned only about the exhibition a few days before it was to be opened in July 2012.

Takuya Kaneda, the international coordinator, admitted this amounts to a misunderstanding and now has drawn some consequence. He proposes to replace the current members of the International Committee with younger ones. They should all be 30 or younger. To find them, he asks current members of the International Committee to make proposals. To oversee the changes he proposes that he stays on as international coordinator. Now all that is more than a puzzle, for how he thinks to activate a committee which has not really existed for a long time? At best, some members act as if mere honorary ones of the Kids' Guernica movement. They got to that position by Takuya Kaneda appointing them personally. Thus only few are active while the other members exist like sleeping beauty?

The proposal is ill conceived for three main reasons: one, it does not involve those who are actively interested in Kids' Guernica; two, no one knows the exact role of the International Committee; and three, there is the danger that some of the older members will propose their daughters and sons and thereby shall practice 'nepotism'.

There are mainly two kinds of disagreements with this proposal:

1) Gabriele Felder wishes to stay on as member of the International Committee now that he has re-entered the public domain of Kids' Guernica after an absence of over ten years. At the same time, he wishes like Tom Anderson a continuity of what Kids' Guernica amounted up to now, namely an informal network in which its key or founding members can exclusively set the rules all by themselves. Naturally of inconvenience for such a plan is that Hatto Fischer is as well a member of the International Committee. That is why Gabriele Felder proposes literally 'to dispose' of him and legitimizes this by calling him an ego-centric who has solely self interest as his agenda and thereby thinks he can judge his intentions as having no interest whatsoever in Kids' Guernica despite of him having been out of touch for such a long time. No response to this came from Takuya Kaneda and Tom Anderson, but Alexandra Zanne and Kevin Cooper contradicted explicitly while Bernard Conlon seconded the opinion of Kevin Cooper in his response to the current matter. At the same time, Bernard Conlon reminds what he laid out in the protocol of the discussion which took place in Florida, January 2010 and points out that this has never been enacted upon.

The inconsequential nature of Kids' Guernica manifests itself in this nebulous state of affairs leaving it possible for Boris Tissot to act like a maverick with no regards whatsoever for the others. At the same time, there is be noticed a pragmatic opportunism being practiced by Gabriele Felder insofar he wishes to switch whenever convenient from the formal to the informal and vice versa. A similar state of affairs led to the dissolvement of the ECCM network when it was replaced by an informal network of current and future European Capitals of Culture plus those cities who had the title during the previous two years. It meant an automatic exclusion of the older ones and consequently broke the continuity of learning from former, current and future cities. Informal networks are most treacherous but are preferred as they promise to circumvent formal rules. It is an expression of a common anti-government, anti-administration and anti-political sentiment and reflects a desire for freedom from an over regulated life. Some would even go so far as to claim that innovative practices can only be realized with but a few highly motivated and influential people who are not restricted by any legal framework of accountability.

There is still another reason why some prefer for Kids' Guernica as it functioned up to now. They stay silent due to not understanding the complexity entailed when seeking a formal status for a world wide movement and which has to mature around some basic objectives like letting children, not adults paint these peace murals. And there are those who are only interested in the artistic action with the children when they paint murals. However, they would need to explain why in Kidfs' Guernica it is the adults who end up going as a rule with these murals to international exhibitions and bask there in this moral sanctioned light of doing something for peace.

2) There exists an active network of people all sharing the same principles and who are becoming increasingly critical. They see that Kids' Guernica engages in a constant avoidance of issues. To them this state of affairs has become intolerable. They are of the opinion that not a hang over kind of International Committee should decide about the future of Kids' Guernica but a founding assembly.

Given the protocol kept by Bernard Conlon after the Florida discussion in January 2010, but which has been acted upon so far, there is a need to go forward. There exists a draft of the Memorandum of Understanding. On the agenda for the next international meeting of Kids' Guernica should be refinement thereof. It can provide a basis to decide if Kids' Guernica should become a legal entity and be fully accountable and transparent to all its members by its name and for what it stands for according to its own constitution.

Kevin Cooper would point out right now no protocols are kept to record decisions which have been taken nor is it clear how to become a member of Kids' Guernica. People who are active within Kids' Guernica over the past years were taken aback when Gabriele Felder addressed them as "friends of Kids' Guernica' even though he has not been around for years addresses. He had even the audacity to ask for their patience. For they should wait until the internal clarification by the members of the International Committee has been completed. This indicates the potential risk of splitting up Kids' Guernica. As if a distinction can be made all of a sudden between an inner circle composed of older and even founding members and a wider circle of actively interested ones. Such a fictitious separation serves only one purpose, namely to take over Kids' Guernica. But it has no legitimacy and cannot stand up to the active network as recognized by founding member Prof. Abe from Nagasaki.

The letter by Gabriele Felder does serve, however, notice as to what kind of manipulative game can be played. By using a designation like 'friends of Kids' Guernica' while calling himself to be a core member, he seeks to seize the intiative. Yet it falls far short from gaining any recognition within Kids' Guernica that such a language which includes the word 'dispose' has any future.

Given these three different options - Takuya's proposal, Gabriele Felder's opinion and consensus within Kids' Guernica - an internal clarification process shall take place. Crucial will be to do without damaging further the reputation of Kids' Guernica. That things can be done differently is amply demonstrated by Prof. Abe who organized the memorial exhibition in Nagasaki from August 5 until August 10, 2012. Not only did he inform the others, but also he recognized the entire network by promising to translate from Japanese into English the catalogue. At the same time, he forwarded first images of the exhibition to everyone. It is that simple with today's Internet to stay in touch.

Prof. Abe's recogniton of the Kids' Guernica network as being open and trust worthy is crucial as it defines the social capital of this movement. It will facilitate the coming together in near future. Definitely a set of issues are in need to be resolved, including the already mentioned copy-right one. Other points in need to deliberate upon are the following:


Kids' Guernica and the museum of Gernika

Kids' Guernica is an open network of people collaborating with each other freely. In practice it means everyone relies on all the others to be fair and equally open. For nothing is possible without some mutual appreciation as to what each person can give to promote the idea of Kids' Guernica.

It means over time certain expectations have been building up after making experiences to such a kind of collaboration. No wonder then when people like Thomas Economacos who had done things together with Boris Tissot in the past e.g. when they went together with Rosa Naparstek to the Martin Luther Center for Non-Violence in New York in January 2010, are simply hurt for not being informed.

As to the museum of Gernika, no one knows under which terms negotiations were conducted with the museum about the exhibition and what was finally agreed upon. Since it was not really done on behalf of Kids' Guernica, the opinion of others had not to be taken into consideration. For instance, if it was to be a major international exhibition reflecting Kids' Guernica, then murals dating all back to times before 2001 will not suffice, if the aim was to show how things have developed within Kids' Guernica over the past 17 years.

Also Kids' Guernica has been making more and more connections to Guernica, alone the story by Manuel Gonzales whose father was evacuted from Guernica after the bombardment underlines that the meaning of Guernica has deepened for Kids' Guernica over the past few years. It could also be expected that the one mural which was painted in San Sebastian in 2011 would be included. San Sebastian is but 50 kilometers away from Guernica and shall be in 2016 the European Capital of Culture. The Kids' Guernica action was a part of preparing the bid for the title. But if an arbitrary exhibition was to be avoided, the two would have needed to take up communication with all the others. Unfortunately this was not done and thus a potential positive collaboration with the museum was spoiled from the outset.

Kids' Guernica has definitely an interest in the museum being located in the town of Guernica, but not only for reasons of the exhibition. In addition, there shall take place three conferences in October 2012 in conjunction with the exhibition at the museum. Therefore all the more strange about this lack of communication is that a one day conference devoted solely to the peace project Kids' Guernica shall take place on the 6th of October 2012. It could have been expected to involve the whole of Kids' Guernica. Instead nothing was known until the very last days just prior to the opening of the exhibition in July 2012.

The International Committee, the coordinator and the legitimate base of Kids' Guernica

Boris Tissot and Gabriele Felder have been kept on the list of members of the International Committee by Takuya Kaneda, the international coordinator, despite Gabriele Felder having dropped out of sight since 2006 at the latest, while Boris Tissot ceased communication at the end of 2009, beginning of 2010. Hatto Fischer had recommended to Takuya Kaneda that Boris Tissot should be taken off the list after his action in Picasso's atelier. He replied that the best would be to remove both Boris Tissot and Hatto Fischer as if the issues raised where only a personal matter between the two.

As the museum director explained later why she contacted Boris Tissot, she answered when she saw his name on the list of the members of the International Committee and since Boris Tissot had contacted her already about an exhibition possibility at the museum back in 2003, she assumed this was a proper way of communicating with the entire organization when taking up contact with someone she knew already. Still, it is odd that a museum did not communicate directly with the international coordinator. This mistaken assumption is all the more serious because the two have really no mandate to represent Kids' Guernica. Gabriele Felder has been out of touch with Kids' Guernica since 2001, or at the latest since 2006, and Boris Tissot stopped communicating after his controversial action in Picasso's atelier in 2009. As this exclusive practice amounts to a repeat of what took place back then in Paris, it can be expected that the failure to challenge it back then will now transform everything into a much harder confrontation within Kids' Guernica.

Some explanations can be given why the International Committee is not really functioning. One key aspect may be that the founding members are mainly academics. Consequently they see in Kids' Guernica a useful extension of their educational task linked to such concepts as social justice and peace. Also they do not seem to need a formal organization which could cover, for example, travel costs. Quite often their respective university can make available a travel grant, provided it combines with some other things having an educational purpose. As for the rest, they have never appeared to be interested in the day by day affairs. Moreover, Ian Brown from Australia quit in 2010 but his name is still on the list. It says a lot what consequences are drawn, namely in reality none or at least until now that the crisis is coming to a peak and Takuya Kaneda seeks to keep the changes under his control.

By contrast all the other active members of Kids' Guernica do not have with a few exception such an academic background. They need to sustain themselves and carry the costs for anything having to do with Kids' Guernica on their own. Often they do so by playing a double role e.g. Boris Tissot calls himself artist, but he earns his living as curator working for the Centre Pompidou in Paris. By contrast, Asit Poddar is an artist pure and lives of his own art works just like Rosa Naparstek in New York. Others within Kids' Guernica cover a wide range of occupations from journalists like Bernard Conlon or Kevin Cooper to being an officer in the police force of Ghent like Manuel Gonzales. The main core is constituted by people like Thomas Economacos, Alexandra Zanne or Beatriz Churruca who are all free artistic professionals, or else they are teachers like Fatema Nawaz, Ines Dulay Winkler and Christa Kleinbub. Most of them have a strong artistic inclination. That can explain already why there exist a wide range of expectations with regards to Kids' Guernica. So far these differences have not been resolved at organizational level in any satisfactory way.

The difference between 'less communication' and 'no communication'

Altogether it amounts to more than a mere 'misunderstanding' as Takuya Kanada put it politely in his letter to a nearly non existing international committee. He also speaks about problems having been caused because of 'less communication having taken place between museum and committee', when in fact there was 'no' communication at all. That difference in wording reveals the ease by which a diplomatic formulation can lead to avoidance of naming the issue as it is. That would reflect upon Kids' Guernica not gaining in competence on how to resolve problems besetting any peace process as demonstrated as of late by the failure of Koffi Annan's attempt to secure a political solution to the civil war in Syria.

By not taking a stand Kids' Guernica risks to become highly arbitrary. Until now this has been largely due to people shying away from conflicts. Instead there prevails especially amongst the senior members, but not only for others make a pragmatic distinction between artistic content and administrative affairs, an attitude of 'laissez-faire'. What stands as well in the way of any further going clarification is that no one imagines to be challenged by the others if he or she can claim to be doing something in the name of peace by doing something in the name of Kids' Guernica.

Consequently debates have not been really followed up even though some concrete proposals have been made. It seems as if Kids' Guernica is divided between the old timers who wish to continue on an informal basis which serves best their interests while those in need to secure resources want a formal organization which includes protocols of all decisions taken, in order to create a legitimate base for itself.

Right now Kids' Guernica is quite weak and gives the benefit of doubt to those who claim to be acting in the name of peace and therefore identify those wishing to advance an agenda for setting up a formal organization as simple disturbances. At risk is that the entire movement succumbs to individual members like Boris Tissot and Gabriele Felder who think they can act in such an arbitrary and old-fashioned, i.e. egoistical manner and still mask it by covering their actions with the name of Kids' Guernica. Repeatedly positions taken by some others like Tom Anderson seem to indicate that everyone is free to decide what to do or not.

There is one crucial point in need to be faced in all of this. Since the International Committee of Kids' Guernica is not a legal entity but exists more like a honorary group, it cannot be recipient of any public or private funds. As an overall organization Kids' Guernica has no resources at its disposal to make things possible. Whenever money is made available, as was the case for the Kids' Guernica exhibition and symposium in Florida 2010, then Poiein kai Prattein as NGO in Athens handled it on behalf of everyone.

Besides this structural weakness in financial and legal terms, many of the International Committee members are not active at all. There are some exceptions but the main work is subdivided between the international coordinator, Takuya Kaneda, and many other very dedicated and active individuals doing things on behalf of Kids' Guernica. They have the interest to take up what happens at local level when someone organizes a Kids' Guernica action and develop it further.

Basically all actions are local and informal. It gives to the entire Kids' Guernica a decentralized structure. Whenever any money is made available to finance the local action, there is no need to pass on a portion thereof to a central unit. All the work to uphold the network is, therefore, done on a volunteer like basis and is basically taken for granted by all who take advantage of Kids' Guernica. Besides keeping everyone informed, there is the need to keep updated the two major websites; for matter of content and documentation, there is the one of Poiein kai Prattein:


As to the cohesion of the entire movement, inspiration thereof is derived from sharing one common idea as stipulated on the international website


The two kinds of misunderstanding

There are two kinds of misunderstanding: by not naming clearly the issue, and by misinterpreting the basic idea.

The first kind of misunderstanding results out of use of such words which no longer correspond with what really took place or happened. Even the term 'collatoral damage' tends to cover up the brutal fact that once again innocent civilians have been killed by a drone attack. How things are named e.g. things are not really so bad as some claim, the truth of the matter is that people's reactions will not be the same. The fragmentation of responses is wanted as it will weaken the opposition against any of the measures taken even if in violation of ethical principles.

Since many adopt a pragmatic silence in the interest to gain as much as possible out of a movement but not risk oneself by entering conflicts, the avoidance to take a stand is itself an ethical issue. In many cases this prevailing attitude seeking only benefits for oneself is the reason why violent conflicts can be perpetuated so easily despite these people claiming to be doing something in the name of peace. They accept in their silence so many wrong practices until they cannot be sure anymore what holds in reality. After that they usually adopt quite reactionary political positions and endanger even more lives of others by tolerating with their silence practices without any ethics. It is a grave misunderstanding in believing by not doing anything or saying something things will blow over, so to speak, and therefore one should only be interested in the good side of the project.

To stand up for human life requires courage but such courage can only be found if there is belief in humanity. It means even when challenging the others, no grudge deep down will be held against those persons. Much worse is to suppress the truth. Once things are out in the open, then human reality can be experienced in terms of what matters. It will allow for social and cultural cohesion while ensuring that honest and just solutions are found.

When asked to respond as to how this was possible that two so-called members of the International Committee went ahead without informing the others, Takuya called this 'less communication led to some misunderstanding'. But in reality 'no' communication took place, but by wording it in such a way, he may avoid some conflicts but also reproduces misunderstandings. Alone that difference in wording reveals the ease by which a diplomatic formulation can lead to avoidance of naming the issue as it is. If that is the common practice, it would reflect that Kids' Guernica does not gain in competence when there is a need to resolve problems besetting any peace process. This has been demonstrated as of late by the failure of Koffi Annan to secure a political solution for the civil war 2011-2012 in Syria.

By not taking a stand Kids' Guernica risks to become highly arbitrary. Until now this has been largely due to people shying away from conflicts. Instead there prevails especially amongst the senior members (but not only for others tend to make a pragmatic distinction between artistic content and administrative affairs) an attitude of 'laissez-faire'. What stands as well in the way of any further going clarification is that no one imagines to be challenged by the others, if he or she can claim to be doing something in the name of peace by doing something in the name of Kids' Guernica. This misunderstanding means a political action is subsumed and covered up by claiming to be doing something creatively with children and thus would amount to such a degree of innocence that no one has the Right to question this, never mind even doubt its integrity.

Then there is a second kind of misunderstanding. While it is commonly assumed that Kids' Guernica wishes to promote peace by children painting together such murals which remind of Picasso's Guernica, this can lead to misinterpretation. For stipulated is only that the canvas has to be of the same size as Picasso's Guernica. There does not need to be made any reference to Picasso's Guernica itself. Rather the challenge lies elsewhere. Painting a mural of that size can easily over demand any artist, all the more it is amazing to see a group of children taking on this task without having any second thoughts. Naturally Picasso set an example with his Guernica and provokes at the same time over and again how the topic of war and peace can be handled in such a visual form.

The misleading action in Picasso's atelier(2009)

A misunderstanding par excellence has been the action in Picasso's atelier in 2009. Then the children were practically forced to make sketches from the works of Picasso hanging on the walls of the atelier. Following that, they had to deliberate upon symbols and images for a canvas designed by Boris Tissot and his collaborator. The mural was meant 'to scream' by following in the footsteps of Picasso. Nothing could be more disastrous than such an attempt. It explains already why this action was disputed by many, including Jad Salman, Monique Kissel, Anna Arvanitaki and Hatto Fischer, all of whom had been in the atelier at the time with Jad Salman even participating directly. None of these objections were really listened to by Takuya Kaneda and the still active members of the International Committee as if afraid to take a stand. In the final end, it was put down conveniently as a mere conflict between Boris Tissot and Hatto Fischer even though someone like Monique Kissel said it was not an issue between the two.

The mural brought about under the direction of Boris Tissot did not intend to express the scream understood as 'human pain', but only a reduction thereof. It was intended to express just a simple 'no' against war and then the children had not to paint the canvas, but instead apply with a roller a single colorin pre designated areas and thus were left with a mural done only in white and black colors. The tones of these two colors were compared with what was depicted in the poster of Picasso's Guernica hanging in the atelier. Since a poster, nothing could be further from the original Guernica. Even though this type of action suppressed the children's love for colorsin order to be different from other Kids' Guernica murals, Boris Tissot explained in his Final Report that it was intentional and in the final end the children accepted it. However, contrary to his claim images taking during the action speak quite another language. The discord of the children with what was imposed upon them came out fully in the end by all of them painting in secret a second mural full of colors. That one was given as a gift to Jad Salman, the only true artist in the atelier at that time and who tried to give them free space wherever he could.

Kids' Guernica murals done by children are impressive not only due to their size but because of the colors and their variety. By now, there exist about 260 such murals throughout the world. Each month new ones are added as someone picks up the idea and gets a group of kids or students together to make possible a unique experience.

In the logic of an idea

But to come back to Kids' Guernica, no formal organization exists; instead Kids' Guernica proceeds in reality by the logic of the idea itself. Everyone is free to imagine what matters most when doing an action. That can lead at times to a misunderstanding as pointed out before, the main point of contention being to what extent adults should intervene or not. The answer is quite simple: 'none'. But given the differences between founding members, active coordinators of various actions and exhibitions, and people who join for one action, misinterpretation of the core idea is a risk and challenge.

The action in Picasso's atelier revealed that within Kids' Guernica too much leeway and even tolerance is given to actions not merely facilitated but led and implemented by adults. Repeatedly when in exhibitions murals are shown, the experience can be made that some person would approach a specific one and point to a detail in the mural, in order to question, if this was really the work of a child? In most cases this doubt proves to be correct. Takuya Kaneda himself confessed that he knows of murals which were not done by children, but by an adult who had assembled materials from children and then proceeded to do all by himself a mural. This was in a much more sophisticated way the case in Picasso's atelier as well.

Simply said if anything goes, and if it does not matter that adults can get away with it by pretending to themselves and audiences that these murals were done by children and not by themselves, then Kids' Guernica would be in trouble. Definitely not sufficient care has been taken until now to reinforce this basic principle, namely that murals should be done by children / youth and not be adults. If the latter wish to do one, fine, but no claim should be made afterward, as if it has been done by children. It would be a case of deceiving the public if this adult mural would be hung together with the other murals and everyone coming to the exhibition be left to believe this was done by children. Honest labeling of the action is not self understood but should prevail in all cases. Also honest documentation and narration of how the mural came about would alleviate a part of the problem even though videos can be made so that Takuya Kaneda came to the conclusion after seeing the one done about the action in Picasso's atelier that "he could not see anything wrong!" And this despite letters from others who were at the atelier at the same time to point out to the contrary as to what Boris claimed in his Final Report.

In principle everything runs over the international coordinator in Japan. He gives recognition to a local action for being a Kids' Guernica one. To make this decision he relies upon the images of the painting process which have been send to him as stipulated on the international website. Hence he conveys some 'moral authority' as if there exists a formal organization. This is substantiated in part by having an international committee but which hardly exists in reality.

Consequently Kids' Guernica risks increasingly to deceive those on the outside that a formal and structured organization does exist. They assume naturally that no serious communication problems exist within Kids' Guernica. By the same token, if projections and expectations of others are not handled well, Kids' Guernica stands to lose in reputation. This is especially the case if false projections are not corrected immediately. Otherwise upholding the illusion of being a functioning organization when it is in fact not, that leaves people without orientation. It explains as well why there is usually no follow-up after the initial action has been completed as if this is all what needs to be done. The communication link to Kids' Guernica as an ongoing peace process is missing here completely. Only some attempt to uphold such a communication in addition to what is made available on the two websites.

The pitfalls of any 'peace' movement

By the same token, if problems are not resolved and likewise challenges not dealt with, it shall create a huge gap between the claim of doing something in the name of peace and the way things are dealt with in practice. Lately it has become ever more apparent how crucial it is to know how a peace process is communicated. The language has to be realistic and be based on the real experiences made by the children and youth while painting the murals. That is to say, expressions about peace and war should not exhaust themselves in the mere use of usual symbols and images. That starts with Picasso's famous pigeon and does not end with the peace sign demonstrators usually carry with them when protesting against war. Naturally these symbols and signs can be found in murals painted especially by older children or youth. Why language should not be reduced to that, here studies show, that if everything is left only to symbols and images, it reproduces only misunderstandings.

Consequently Kids' Guernica has to take care to avoid these kinds of symbolic pitfalls since it can easily lead to a stereotypical thinking about war and peace. Rather Kids' Guernica should seek to enrich international communication about peace by adding these murals as crucial references and link up with further going actions aiming to bring these murals and the children in dialogue with still other issues. Murals serve as point of entry into another kind of discourse. By being related to the experiences people and children make on the ground, it reveals another way to stay in touch with human reality. Also since it is an open ended process, reality can be perceived out of many perspectives. This depends, however, largely to the extent to which the collaborative learning process engages everyone not only when the mural is being painted but what carries further the message contained in the mural. A prime question of a local action becoming a community wide one is how to stay creative in a collective process. An indication thereof is how the imaginative power of children and youth is brought to bear on the pertinent question why wars cannot be avoided and peace so difficult to attain?

Self understanding of Kids' Guernica - some key references

Out of all these further going actions linked to letting children paint murals and to organizing exhibitions, a self understanding of Kids' Guernica has has evolved over the past seventeen years. More important, its core idea seems to be shared by all and this not merely at a superficial level. It is, therefore, a matter of realizing the tension between what Kids' Guernica stands for and what people are willing to raise as a point of doubt, objection or criticism when this self-understanding is being challenged. For out of this ongoing questioning of the self-understanding clarification as to where Kids' Guernica stands, shall emerge.

A practical impetus to reflect upon the self understanding can be linked to various references which have been created over time:


It was intended to come together at the end of August 2012 to further this self-understanding but the meeting had to be cancelled due to Sylvain Zanne from Gezoncourt having fallen ill with cancer. There is now a main focus being put on preparing a major get-together with the aim to clarify all these points.

Que sera, sera - what will the future be?

Only by taking into consideration these references can a debate about the future of Kids' Guernica be constructive. There has to be attained as well a consistency over time. And once the decision has been taken whether or not Kids' Guernica should become a formal organization, the constitution of Kids' Guernica would need to be drafted.

It is clear that the older members on the International Committee prefer right now to keep things as they are, namely an informal network and therefore no legal entity. Whether the others like Bernard Conlon, Alexandra Zanne, Kevin Cooper and others can convince them, is doubtful. Already Gabriele Felder has made a move by which they are designated as "friends of this beautiful project" while he indicated internal discussion shall decide about the future. This self appointment of who are the insiders goes hand in hand by him wishing to oust Hatto Fischer as member of the International Committee. As a typical struggle for power and for having a say in how things are self regulated under which terms, it is highly treacherous how things are beginning now to unfold within Kids' Guernica.

Given this state of affairs, many are unsure as they know too little about the background of many controversies just hinted at during the debates. But it should be clear what this contradiction in the preference for an informal network implies, namely the freedom of a small self selected group to apply formal rules to exclude anyone who goes against their core consensus. Still, they seek to legitimize themselves by invoking the claim to be doing this in the name of Kids' Guernica.


Right now a variety of collections containing all kinds of documentary materials exist, but a great deal is just 'intangible memory' of the experience made. If to be remembered well, these experiences have to be given form to really exist as references for the future. Working through these experiences is also not just a take the mural and leave the children behind, but it depending largely upon what narratives accompany that specific mural.

Still all this material together with the murals can highlight what has been the self-understanding of Kids' Guernica so far. In future a lot shall depend if the experiences made can deepen the self understanding shared by all.

Learning a practical discourse

Right now there is a tendency not only to block off criticism and further questioning, but to keep things quite simple, if not altogether a bit idealistic and therefore equally naive. For example, Tom Anderson is of the opinion what has worked over the past fifteen years should be continued.

Since the founding of Kids' Guernica in 1995 a lot has happened but which is not really self-understood. By the same token, some new tendencies are beginning to manifest themselves.


There are still other tendencies conceivable and which can overtake Kids' Guernica, especially if there appears suddenly someone who is willing to fund Kids' Guernica. Whether this will prompt Kids' Guernica to become a foundation or a world wide NGO remains to be seen. If there is to be entered any sort of collaboration with UNESCO, then the legal framework has to be defined very well.

The inherent dynamic in all these different tendencies results out of different attitudes and positions ranging from wishing to keep Kids' Guernica as it has been over the past years to altering it. Since all of this has not been clearly discussed, the value of the various options and what they entail have to be explained and validated before any decision is made. At the same time all the outstanding issues in need to be resolved have to be identified 'correctly'. Otherwise it would mean endless repetitions and systematic failure. If the latter is the case, then it will mean that no lessons have been learned. A lot will depend upon developing such a culture of failure so that 'success' in Kids' Guernica terms does not exhaust itself in having done yet another mural.

Right now whenever Kids' Guernica is really challenged, only a few people respond. For any matter raised at international level, it shall be difficult to find a truly legitimate basis. Instead of a fruitful debate, there is the risk to debase everything and then add to conflicts rather than setting the conditions for solutions. As a world wide movement, there exists anyhow a huge problem how to reach a workable consensus. Consequently too many things are left hanging in the air.

Presumably a saying of Marx holds here as well, namely people are only then willing to see the problems, if there exist solutions for them. This may account for having left unresolved until now the many inherent contradictions to the supposed self-understanding of Kids' Guernica. That calls then into question as to what can be considered to be the legitimate base for doing something in the name of Kids' Guernica.

Upholding the network and interest in Kids' Guernica

There is another set of consideration in need to be taken into account. They are linked to all the single actions but it makes a difference on how everything is held together. That includes upholding the website and the communication within the entire network.

Too often actions are undertaken without due consideration as to what makes things possible in the first place. Also the main work cannot be done on a part time basis whether now as a professor or as a volunteer. Already Takuya Kaneda admitted he cannot keep up with all the Kids' Guernica actions which take place alone in Japan. He seems to accept this and thereby underlines the open character of Kids' Guernica.

No wonder that the risk is becoming ever greater that too much is happening without anyone really knowing what is going on.

On top of it when things happen like a major exhibition being opened in the name of Kids' Guernica at the museum of Gernica and no one knew about it until the last week before the opening, too much is rationalized away since what else can be done except to accept de facto and in retrospect what amounts to a 'fait accompli'.

While everyone wishes to bask in the success of Kids' Guernica, no one seems to be around when work needs to be done and/or real issues have to be tackled. Naturally there is always at risk that someone seizes upon the idea and uses it to further just his or her own name. Such egoistical behavior is at times difficult to deal with. But when it happens, then this challenge has to be taken up, for otherwise Kids' Guernica loses in reputation and more so exhausts the 'moral authority' it has been able to preserve so far.

Kids' Guernica's 'self-understanding'

Departing from Adorno's dictum, self-understood is only that nothing is self-understood, Kids' Guernica has likewise to go through a self reflective process. It is done best by letting itself be challenged constantly in its presumed self-understanding. This is to ensure values are not dogmatically set. That would be the case if nothing is done to accommodate changes and claims simply made to be doing everything in the name of peace. What holds generally for peace movements known for their dogmatic passivity, it can equally apply to Kids' Guernica.

The need to change arises largely out of Kids' Guernica success story. Alone the many murals require a lot of archive work while care has to be taken that the stories told in connection with the painting of the murals remain authentic. Alone evoking too often the word 'peace' can sound after a while quite hollow. This danger is especially incurred when peace messages become public declarations but which are no longer formulated in a realistic sense stemming from how children would express themselves and not how adults can instigate and reformulate the wordings, in order to sound good but which are also 'politically' neutral.

Some lessons for this can be derived from a NGO working on redemption in Belfast. It takes care that of utmost importance is to remember not in just any but in a truthful way. Even if the reconstruction of the past seems nearly impossible, as believed by Jürgen Habermas, still with a rich imagination it is possible to re-account what took place during the time of conflict. Naturally here use of the imagination is not to spin off but to question and be questioned by what took place in reality. A good guidance is as Kevin Cooper says the retention of a human understanding of the conflict, in order to prevent that a perpetrator becomes the victim when the story is passed on to the next generations.

Since many more people have joined or are willing to engage themselves, alone upholding the communication process is a challenge, never mind to see what follow-ups are needed to advance the peace process. Here Kids' Guernica has a lot to learn how to make good use of its resources and in which direction investments need to be made to further the peace process. Linked to that are such crucial concepts as friendship, trust and openness international relationships shall be in need of in near future. That any peace process has to rely on imaginative processes which do enrich the empathy people have for other people is not really as of yet self-understood. That has to be brought about. To this Kids' Guernica can make a major contribution provided adults allow themselves to be freed by beginning to imagine like the children different possibilities to express themselves.

Kids' Guernica can become a diplomacy from below and give courage to people to seek other ways to promote dialogue and critical analysis as to why attempts at peace fail while going to war seems by far much easier. The murals can make a contribution provided the actions accompanying their creation are reflected upon and the messages of these murals taken seriously. For instance, the one painted in Kabul, Afghanistan seeks to analyze reasons for violence without resorting to an enemy picture e.g. the plane dropping the bombs has no insignia to indicate whether it is an American or Russian one. Rather it is depicted as a technical instrument used for purpose of destruction. That opens up the space to look into the question but who has interest to ignore the lessons of Guernica when bombs were dropped upon innocent civilians? That is the case today with the use of drones!

Some clear trends are already affecting the self-understanding:


Reading the messages of the murals

Much can be learned by looking more closely at individual Kids' Guernica actions and by explaining even the significance of certain details. Every mural depicts a variety of interesting details showing what children see. That all actions entail positive and negative aspects, is self-understood. Things can be improved by criticism and improvement in communication as to what Kids' Guernica stands for. And not everything has to do with aesthetics or how to learn to paint together a mural. For a lot depends not only on having the materials - canvas, paint brushes, paints - and the space available, but how the children are brought together and for what purpose.

It makes already a difference if Greek and Turkish children and youth paint together and thereby illustrate what an intercultural dialogue could mean for the future Turkish- Greek relationship. Since 'intercultural dialogue' is a key concept of EU cultural and foreign policy, it has to be admitted that Kids' Guernica has not succeeded so far to bring together Israeli and Palestinian children, in order to further the peace dialogue in the Middle East. There do exist, however, two murals on the Israeli side: one painted in Haifa, the other in the Oasis of Peace. However, in both cases children were involved whose parents are of Arabic origin, but who hold Israeli citizenship. There was one mural done in Ramallah but so far not one which brought together the two sides.

The same applies to the two murals done in Belfast since it was either Catholic or Protestant children, but not as of yet the two confessions together. In turn, this failure reflects a reality a need to go on. What did not work out in the first place may be possible by trying to approach both sides differently the next time.

When Nepal was still in internal strife, children from Katmandu made their way through all battle lines to reach a village at the foot of the Himalaya. Once there, they started a dialogue between urban and rural children. Alone by having this self confidence to try to make it from the city to the village, that mural may have captured the spirit which contributed greatly towards altering that country from violent civil strife to governance based on peaceful dialogues. The action came at the right time to mark this historic point of transition. The Nepal mural depicts children all looking into a peaceful landscape.

Investment in peace - practical memory studies - the stories to live by

The ongoing reflections give guidance in what Kids' Guernica has to invest in to promote peace. Crucial is the acknowledgment that there are limitations and not everything can be attained all at once. Important is not to give up the overall dream and vision of peace. Things may only be realized in the long run. For that patience, endurance and consistency are required but also a political sense for what is possible in any given reality.

The experiences made by the various local actions can serve as crucial references and from which further going ideas can be deduced. Already the philosopher Bart Verschaffel has identified Kids' Guernica as a practical memory study. Some actions show how memories of previous wars can be passed on to younger generations, and this free from any indoctrination. For instance, a part of the preparation for the Gezoncourt mural had children visit first Verdun, the battle field of First World War and discussing there with a historian the reasons of war, before returning home to paint a mural addressing the question "the other: enemy or friend?" Equally during the action in Picasso's atelier Manuel Gonzales came from Ghent and told the children about his father having been evacuated as a child of their age from Guernica after the bombardment in 1937 and taken to that city for adoption.

That is to say, Kids' Guernica takes its inspiration from real stories. They are not necessarily narrated by the murals themselves. Rather they are a part of the process which accompanies the painting of the mural and constitute the experiences made by the children and youth in reference to the mural being shaped by a process called 'collaborative learning'. Kids' Guernica is, therefore, not to be identified solely by its murals; there are many kinds of reflections which accompany the creation of the murals. Many of them intertwine personal thoughts with what gives shape to interesting group discussions. All of these experiences are in need to be documented, narrated and reflected upon for they offer in the final end a key to understanding the mural itself.

If the process is handled well, one thing can lead to the next. As these experiences have an intangible value especially for the children and youth growing up in a difficult world, it is an investment in the future. For the understanding which prevailed when doing the mural together should stay with them even when they have become adults and find themselves unexpectedly facing each other in situations requiring unknown till then abilities to negotiate conditions of peace in order to avoid war. Remembering then the murals will matter, especially if done with imagination, in order to allow empathy to prevail. Takuya Kaneda made clear this must be a key aim, namely to let the children emancipate the adults so that they imagine again and develop empathy for the others. With the imagination reactivated by the children when 'their souls have touched the canvas' (Thomas Economacos), adults can understand better the others, including their dreams and fears. At the same time, empathy and imagination are prerequisites for dialogue and for making peace. All the more a need to advance more of that amongst adults. It is, therefore, quite contradictory when adults dispute that children have this ability and instead of letting them touch with their souls the canvas impose their concept first upon the canvas and then upon the children as was the special case in Picasso's atelier when an action took place there in 2009.

The conflict in 2012 - in reference to 2009

So why are then challenges in contradiction to the self understanding of Kids' Guernica not being taken up by its leading or active members? It perplexes as much as it reminds what response there was to what happened in Picasso's atelier, namely very little. To this has to be added now a more recent action by Boris Tissot and where a little but significant change has taken place. At least, Takuya Kaneda has acknowledged that there may have been some misunderstanding! However, others like Tom Anderson refuse to see where there is any problem. What happened in 2012 to evoke these memories of the past?

Together with Gabriele Felder, Boris Tissot has been asked by the museum of Gernica to organize at its premises a Kids' Guernica exhibition for the July-October 2012 period. The strange fact is that he went ahead without informing anyone else of Kids' Guernica until the exhibition was about to be opened. That reflects itself that he has been out of touch with the rest of Kids' Guernica ever since those controversies erupted around his action in Picasso's atelier. Even more strange is that he collaborates now with Gabriele Felder. Presumably he did so to obtain the murals needed for the exhibition as he had no one else to turn to. Also Boris Tissot had wanted in the past to ask Gabriele Felder for the murals he had kept since an exhibition back in 2001. He refrained since Gabriele Felder charged a fee for each mural to be used for an exhibition. Boris Tissot was, therefore, angry at Takuya Kaneda who should as international coordinator of Kids' Guernica take up this issue with Gabriele Felder. Instead the latter became a sleeping member on the International Committee and the matter of making money off the murals never discussed within the International Committee.

Gabriele Felder had come to this stock of murals by having organized a huge exhibition up in the mountains of South Tyrol in 2001. Apparently it had cost him a lot do to the expensive wooden frames he used to mount the murals up in the snow. Presumably to recover these costs he decided to charge a fee, if someone wanted to use these murals for another exhibition. Charging a fee even though they do not belong to him is not only strange but a violation of principles practiced so far by Kids' Guernica. Needless to say this copy-right issue is one of the many unresolved issues within Kids' Guernica. So far no policy has been adopted, but how is that possible if Kids' Guernica is not a formal organization with own statues and a capacity to protect the Rights of the children and youth? The latter are the rightful owners since they have created them. However, since done in a collectivity and often organized by some adult linked to a school or other institutions which makes available in turn the money needed to finance the action, the ownership matter becomes a complex issue. It includes to who present this mural, if it should not be only the coordinator(s) or artist who did the work with the children, but the children themselves? Definitely there is some local ownership involved but due to using the name Kids' Guernica, that means another dimension thereof has to be taken into consideration. It is like using a common logo. How to handle then all of these issues at the overall level can become a crucial turning point for Kids' Guernica. It includes the possibility of these murals gaining in value over time and then what to do with the money question? But besides this, the storage and preservation of the murals poses yet another set of outstanding questions.

Since no other information is available at this time about the exhibition shown at the Gernica museum from July until October 2012, it can only be presumed all murals have been taken out of the stock kept by Gabriele Felder. This means all of them will have been created before 2001. It would make the exhibition outdated even before the doors have been opened. It could only be legitimized by saying these are Kids' Guernica murals during the first five years of existence, in order to go back to the roots. Since many more murals have been created in the meantime, a contemporary exhibition would have required direct communication with all those who have in their possession murals. That  is usually done by asking around and then making sure shipments are done with expenses paid for this by the one who does the exhibition. No fee is charged but the transport costs are covered. That holds as well when the murals are to be returned if they do not travel on to another exhibition. It reflects a loose arrangement between various coordinators and things are resolved in an informal way.

Also it is not know if the museum had to make some payment for showing these murals. If the case, it would be a violation of ethical principles of Kids' Guernica since all murals are painted by children and primarily they are the owners. Request for further information has been put to the museum director herself. She replied in a letter stating that neither Boris Tissot or Gabriele Felder have received any money. No mention was made if this applied as well to the murals.

The real controversy about such an exhibition is that the two claim to represent Kids' Guernica when in reality they have been out of touch with naturally Gabriele Felder much longer than Boris Tissot. But here begins to show itself the weakness of Kids' Guernica as a decentralized organization. Everyone can feel empowered when having done something in the past in the name of Kids' Guernica. The museum director pointed out specifically she approached Boris Tissot since he had contacted the museum already in 2003 and after the Basque government became suddenly interested in such an exhibition in 2012 after having tried for years to get that support to realize such a concept. Consequently she searched on the international website of Kids' Guernica and discovered the name of Boris Tissot on the list of members of the International Committee. Hence she knew him already, she contacted him and not the international coordinator. If that was the beginning, it still begs an answer why no one else of Kids' Guernica was informed or even consulted despite being an international exhibition of some importance since not held anywhere but in the very city which was bombarded in 1937 and which prompted Picasso to paint Guernica. But like with Picasso's atelier, Boris Tissot has a habit to appropriate what has a meaning for the whole of Kids' Guernica all by himself.

Conclusion: Will Kids' Guernica overcome all controversies and continue?

There are many explanations for adopting such a convenient way out of controversies. Tom Anderson, one of the founding members, thinks Kids' Guernica is a grass root movement and thus everyone is free to do something to advance this movement. Hence he has no objection to Boris Tissot going ahead to do this exhibition at Gernica museum even if he did not inform anyone else about it. But by using the term 'grass-root movement', Tom Anderson blends out the fact that the museum approached Boris Tissot as member of the International Committee and would assume he is empowered thereby to act on behalf of the entire movement. That means a formal principle is invoked. No outsider can assume or perceive that the International Committee is not really a formal part of an organization but exists much more on a honorary basis with many of its members not at all active in the movement. Also reference to a committee means Kids' Guernica is not just a grass-root movement but entails some kind of hierarchy with an international coordinator as its nominal head to ensure cohesion and a flow of information to a degree that everyone feels adequately informed about what is going on.

Given the disputed action by Boris Tissot in Picasso's atelier in 2009, these latest developments do not come as a surprise. The International Committee has not functioned at all. Some like the Indian artist Asit Poddar are active when doing murals with the blind boys, but Asit Poddar is not known to take any position except when expressing the desire to be kept informed. Tom Anderson as founding member has been with Kids' Guernica since the beginning and he organized the 15th anniversary at his university in Tallahassee, Florida with an exhibition and an art symposium about social justice. But as Rosa Luxembourg would describe academics, namely as being opportunists, he never took up the challenge of Boris Tissot. Instead of picking up the issues when it came to a strong disagreement between him and Hatto Fischer about adults' involvement in the painting process of children, he dismissed everything as it is possible to reduce all issues to just two persons not able to come to an agreement. But he wrote as well into the programm for the Art Symposium he organized in January 2010 beside the name Boris Tissot Pablo Picasso's atelier as if there was any formidable link to bloster his name. That is, however, typical on how people wish to gain fame by riding on board of the bus of the other.

Consequently it will not hurt to take a second look as to what happened in Picasso's atelier back then, in 2009. Learning lessons from practical failures is important. Such mistakes should not be repeated a second time for then quite a different response shall come eventually from all sides. As a matter of fact, Kids' Guernica is at risk to do precisely this, namely to lose its moral authority and therefore integrity. If no where it becomes evident that issues are really being dealt with despite people with good intentions raising them, the next wave will show unable those doing things in the name of Kids' Guernica have become to articulate themselves free from the usual intricacies and conflicts of interests. They will not be able to deal above all with the problems created by egoistical behavior leading to a lack of freedom and loss of the human spirit.

There is an even greater danger to be satisfied with just having completed yet another action i.e. the painting of still another mural. Such short sighted interests preventing any further going problematization and reflections can victimize the entire movement and prevent altogether Kids' Guernica from facing really the hard core issues linked to war and peace. By wishing to emphasize only the successes but not face many short-comings in an open, equally self-critical way, it will reduce itself to the character of a mere spectacle to be enjoyed on a sunny Sunday afternoon. At the same time, reports about what took place during the actions will not be reviewed critically to see if that upholds to the real practice. If that becomes the norm to clothe everything in the words of peace, then that tendency to resort to spin doctor like reports shall risk to gloss over real failures. And given the existence of war, that is most apparent when things remain just as they are: here the peaceful exhibition, there the hard reality of war and nothing in-between since a kind of 'schizophrenia of peace' is being practiced e.g. Olympic Games can go on but also the war in Syria or elsewhere, and this despite all countries sending atheletes having signed the treaty endorsing the Olympic Truce.

There is a risk to lose everything once language becomes highly manipulative and avoids as pointed out above naming what took really place, namely 'no communication' and not 'less communication'. That is like saying people are not fired from their work but that it is merely a matter of personal adaptation.

At the same time, Kids' Guernica cannot simply bring about peace in conflictual situations like currently in Syria since even simple actions often done in the name of a lofty ideal are often not strong enough to face reality. Lisa Stybor, professor at Bauhaus University in Dessau, would say only when the children feel secure in their environment, then they can enter a further going explorable situation, but this would mean reproducing ideal teaching situations and not come to terms with reality. Altogether it would mean risking to fall far short of such a self-understanding that could take up more serious issues and even challenge abuse of power. All that is linked to what it takes to attain world governance, a concept which Jürgen Habermas has already explored. His basic argument is to point out what is already a self sustaining moral impulse accepted by all and therefore does not need any further justification e.g. the need to respect and to uphold human dignity regardless of the situation in which human beings find themselves in. Practically it means doing actions while keeping intact the not a minimum but the highest possible ethical standards. This is to be expected especially of a movement dealing with children and youth around the globe.

Obviously it is a contradiction of Syria to send a delegation of athletes to the Olympic Games in London 2012, but the Olympic Truce not being upheld due to ongoing fighting in Syria at the same time. That was already a disappointment when the Games were held in Athens 2004 with the United States declaring on the day of the opening of the Games it was not bound by the Truce to wage war in Iraq. If these violations of the Olympic Truce are not contradictions in terms of moral aspirations linked to seeking peace, then it means definitely working through these and other contradictions outlines already what tasks lie ahead for Kids' Guernica. If they are to be worked on, then even the ones incurred in the own domain cannot be ignored and a life continued as if they do not exist. Hence a key term coming out of Kids' Guernica action is that children and youth are forced to live in such a 'schizophrenia of peace' that the unresolved nature of these contradictions mean still more violence and even wars.


Hatto Fischer

Athens 31.7.2012

^ Top

« Kids' Guernica Committee members | Poiein kai Prattein »